The tall ship Amistad, once Connecticut's ambassador, is becoming a symbol of mismanagement, lax oversight and tax dollars wasted.
It's good that the state ordered a five-year audit of the finances of the ship's operator, Amistad America; one is overdue. But there have been signs for years that things were going awry while the state stood by.
Who was looking out for Connecticut's $8 million investment in the ship? Certainly not Amistad America. It lost its nonprofit status this year because it hasn't filed tax returns with the IRS since 2009. It has been berthing the ship in Maine and this spring didn't have a working website or phone.
The state Department of Economic and Community Development blundered. If the DECD's role was to be a watchdog, it's been all gums, no bite. It should have known the organization was not filing 990 forms; that information is available online.
According to state records, the organization's endowment, listed as $356,800 in 2006, was gone by 2008. Did the DECD notice?
In 2011 and 2012, when Amistad needed repairs and was docked at Mystic Seaport, Amistad America's reports to the state said the ship hosted 40,000 visitors a year. Really? Mystic Seaport communications director Daniel McFadden said the Amistad was in charge of counting its own visitors, but the ship was "generally not available to the public" and only opened sporadically. And yet, Amistad America listed salaries during that time of more than $200,000 yearly under "operating expenses" — while the ship was mothballed.
If this is how DECD oversees contracts, hang onto your wallets. How will things be different going forward?
The state has to insist, in return for its money, that Amistad America's board get replaced and that the ship make an iron-clad commitment to spend June through September in Connecticut. The organization needs to be a fully operating nonprofit and have a plan of action.
It's time taxpayers got what they they paid for — both from the state and the Amistad.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun